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NBA: Can the Celtics be the cream of the crop?

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Photo: Keith Allison (via Wikipedia)

Photo: Keith Allison (via Wikipedia)

The LA Lakers won it all last year and have added Ron Artest. In Cleveland Lebron James seems unstoppable and now has Shaquille O’Neal to team up with. The Spurs, Mavericks and Magic have all made off-season additions they feel will propel them to an NBA Championship.

The big three are reunited in Boston with Rasheed Wallace joining the party. With the NBA tip-off less than a week away, this season’s top teams have really stacked up and fans are set to be treated to countless mouth-watering matchups.

For what it’s worth, I can’t see a team better set to win it all than the Boston Celtics.

In all probability, with Kevin Garnett healthy the Celtics would have won the title last year and all the talk during the pre season of could anyone possibly stop them from emulating previous great teams and winning the ‘threepeat’.

Understandably, Orlando Magic fans might feel slighted by the suggestion that they made it to the finals only because of injuries to their Eastern Conference rivals and I know the Lakers’ faithful would revolt at a suggestion that really, the best team last year would have been their sworn enemies, the Boston Celtics, but, it is the truth.

That is not to take away from Kobe or the Lakers’ fantastic playoff performances particularly in the conference and NBA finals, the Lakers were deservedly crowned champs, they won all their series until there was nobody left, while the Celtics had injuries and lost, that’s sport.

However, it should put some perspective on the upcoming season. The Celtics minus KG lost 4 games to 3 to the Magic who, bar missing what seemed like every free-throw, were a real match for the Lakers in the finals. Now bring back KG and add veteran former champion Rasheed Wallace and I can’t see anything but horrible luck with injuries or another team really clicking in the playoffs from stopping the Celtics raising yet another championship banner.

Last season Rajon Rondo became an all-star type point guard, dominating countless opponents and running the show down the clutch. The Celtics were rumoured to be looking to trade Rondo, something I find hard to understand.

There are a handful of point guards in the league who were better than Rondo was last year and none that the Celtics could realistically attract with viable trade offers or cap space. Maybe they see a cap on his potential, which he may have reached last year, but on all the evidence from on the court Rondo is ready to become a game changing type of player.

Adding to Rondo’s development, the ‘Big Three’ of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen show absolutely no sign of slowing down. Pierce and Allen were almost superhuman at times during last season’s playoff run and before the injury, Kevin Garnett had to be considered the defensive player of the year.

They are three probable future Hall of Famers who came back last year with exactly the same hunger they had for their championship season of 2007/08. There is no reason to believe that that same hunger won’t be back again after their heartbreaking loss to the Magic in the playoffs last year and having to watch their arch-rivals, the LA Lakers celebrate another NBA championship.

A key part to this hunger will be the freshness a guy like Rasheed Wallace can bring. When the Pistons won their last title, most attributed it to the mid-season signing of Wallace which breathed new life into the veteran team. The situation he steps into now is a very similar one.

The Celtics are a veteran team, who pride themselves on tough defense and have an abundance of team leaders. Wallace should thrive this season. Offensively he will spread the opposing defences with his potential to put up big numbers and his length defensively should fit in perfectly with the Celtics philosophy of ball pressure and getting in the passing lane.

Wallace’s talents have never been in question, at times his attitude has been, but looking back at his time with Detroit when they were contending for titles, he was exemplary and he’ll be the same in Boston, marshalled by all those team leaders in Allen, Pierce and Garnett and inspired by the chance to win another championship.

The age of the Celtics is the one major question mark. Can they sustain a high enough level of play for 82 games plus playoffs without having injuries? Maybe not, but if they can, they have all the tools to once again reign supreme in the NBA.

Predicting injuries is too difficult, sure the Celtics are a little bit older but that brings experience of how to handle oneself over a season. A young guy from any other team could just as easily injury himself going for some crazy loose ball or rebound. I don’t see predicting an injury as reason enough to not pick the Celtics. Any team picked could be undone by an injury to a key player. They are the best and I wouldn’t pick the opposition in any possible matchup come playoff time.

That is not to say they are a lock to win it all if they avoid injuries, far from it. LA are nearly everyone’s pick to win it all, understandable considering they won it all last year and have now added Artest. However, the loss of Trevor Ariza is not one to be overlooked. He was the rare combination of young and clutch down the stretch during last year’s playoffs.

In the east, the Cavs have Lebron James and that by itself is enough to beat most on any given night. Throw in one of the most dominant players the game has ever seen in Shaq who is still a matchup nightmare at the end of his career and you have a deadly inside-outside combo. Perhaps even more significantly, they have added length at the perimeter spots with Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, hoping to solve the matchup problems that Orlando presented in the Eastern Finals last year.

Other hurdles include the always tough San Antonio Spurs who have signed Richard Jefferson in order to pre-empt the problems they had when Mano Ginobli went down injured. Dallas are still in the now or never frame of mind and Shawn Marion has been reunited with his old running partner Jason Kidd while Dirk Nowitzki is still a 7ft centre who can stroke three-pointers in his sleep.

And then of course there is the team that knocked them out last year, the Magic. However, Orlando will have a lot to prove this year. The loss of Hedo Turkoglu was not sufficiently covered by the acquisition of Vince Carter. Turkoglu was fantastic in the postseason and Carter has been a serial underachiever in that department.

Whoever wins the title this year, they will have earned it. Any one of eight teams could win it all and not have it be a complete shock. The Celtics just seem to have all the pieces. Nearly everyone agrees they will be the defensive team of the year and offensively they have so many weapons it is hard to know where to start a scouting report. So long as they stay relatively fresh, come June, Boston should have yet another World Championship parade to plan.

Enhanced odds: Get 12/1 on Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal to win

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